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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Smokers' blindness risk 'doubled'
Image of an eye test
A minority of cases can be treated
Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to lose their sight in later life, experts warn.

The link between age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and smoking is now as robust as that between smoking and lung cancer, they say.

Yet many smokers are still unaware that their habit could cost them their sight.

AMD Alliance UK and the Royal National Institute of the Blind are calling for specific warnings on cigarette packets.

Smoking is the only proven cause of AMD that people can do anything about
Steve Winyard of RNIB and AMD Alliance UK

They would also like the government to fund an awareness campaign to alert people to the dangers of smoking, as well as the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places across the UK.

AMD usually develops after a person reaches 50 years and affects the central part of the retina of the eye.

It is the UK's leading cause of sight loss - there are around 500,000 people in the UK with AMD.

An estimated 54,000 people have the condition as a result of smoking.

Ignorance

Yet a report by AMD Alliance UK reveals that only 7% of people know that AMD affects the eyes, based on a survey of 1,023 UK adults.

However, seven out of 10 smokers would either stop smoking permanently (41%) or cut down (28%) if they thought it could harm their eyesight.

A patient's view
Pauline Edwards, 50, from Salford, has AMD after smoking most of her adult life. Pauline said: "I smoked for years. Now I have AMD, am partially sighted in one eye and am likely to go blind. When you smoke you cannot imagine what it is like to have lung cancer and especially when you are young the risk of dying earlier doesn't come into it. I am a nurse, I saw people die from smoking-related diseases and that did not make me kick the habit. But if I had been told that I could lose my sight because of smoking I would have given up. I stopped the day I found out."

Studies have shown that people who stopped smoking 20 years ago have a similar risk of developing AMD as non-smokers do and the risk starts to decrease after 10 years of not smoking.

Steve Winyard, RNIB's head of campaigns and chairman of AMD Alliance UK, said: "Smoking is the only proven cause of AMD that people can do anything about, yet people are not aware of the link and most people have not even heard of the condition.

"The message is simple: do not take up smoking and if you do - stop.

"People also need to make sure they have regular eye tests to check their eyes are healthy - an eye test can save your sight."

Nick Astbury, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: "This is a chilling statistic but it's not too late to give up."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said "We know that for people to change their behaviour we need to communicate the facts about smoking, as well as provide support to help them quit."

She said there were campaigns raising the awareness of the health dangers of smoking and passive smoking.

However, she said the public were less supportive of measures to make all bars and pubs smoke free.

She said they were clamping down on tobacco advertising, but that warnings on cigarette packets were determined by, and therefore a matter for, the European Commission.

The British Medical Association said it supported the call for AMD warnings on cigarette packs.

There are two types of AMD, wet and dry. Some 90% of cases are dry AMD, which cannot be treated.

The remaining 10% are wet AMD, for which treatment is available.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear an expert outline the risks to smokers



SEE ALSO:
Age-related macular degeneration
13 Jun 02 |  Medical notes
Gene blamed for eyesight threat
12 Mar 05 |  Health
Centre has an eye on the future
19 Oct 03 |  England


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